Grading Thompson on the Inside Linebackers

Since A.J. Hawk and Abdul Hodge in 2006, general manager Ted Thompson hasn't taken an inside linebacker in the first four rounds of the draft. That's likely to change in this draft.

Photo by Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY

This will be Ted Thompson’s 11th draft atop the Green Bay Packers, meaning there’s a decade’s worth of history to examine as this year’s draft approaches. We are taking a position-by-position lookback to see where he and his scouting department have turned up gems and where they have turned up fool’s gold.

Inside linebackers

Note: Team changed to 3-4 in 2009

2006, 1st round — A.J. Hawk, Ohio State (6-1, 248): One lasting memory of Hawk came in late November, when he was chasing Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph as if he had concrete in his cleats. It’s hard to remember that at the 2006 Scouting Combine Hawk ran his 40 in 4.65 seconds with a 40-inch vertical and a 3.95 in the short shuttle. Those numbers would have ranked seventh, second and first among this year’s top 15 inside prospects. Father Time outran Hawk last season, too, as the longtime starter had to settle for a part-time role down the stretch. He still finished third on the team with 93 tackles to give him a franchise-record 1,118 for his career. There’s something somehow underrated about showing up and doing your job week after week and year after year. Among all players selected in the 2006 draft, Hawk ranks third in games and seventh in starts. The big plays were few and far between, though. Right? Well, when you take the edge-rushing linebackers out of the equation, Hawk was first in sacks and tied for first in interceptions among the 30 linebackers drafted. Grade: B.

2006, 3rd round — Abdul Hodge, Iowa (6-0, 236): Hodge started one game as a rookie but missed all of 2007 with a knee injury. He wound up playing 26 games for the Bengals and Panthers from 2008 through 2010. Hodge was the ninth of 30 linebackers taken. Taken 21 picks later, James Anderson has started 69 of his 127 career games. Grade: D-minus.

2007, 6th round — Desmond Bishop, Cal (6-2, 239): Bishop might have run only a 4.77 in the 40 at the 2007 Combine but he showed his powerful potential with 33 reps on the bench. He wound up being the 26th of 33 linebackers selected and seemed to be on his way to a good career when he jumped into the starting lineup and helped the Packers win the Super Bowl in 2010. He started 13 games and led the team in tackles in 2011, but missed all of 2012 with a hamstring injury and was released in June 2013. He started one game for Minnesota in 2013 and will vie for a role with the linebacker-deprived 49ers. Grade: B.

2011, 6th round — D.J. Smith, Appalachian State (5-11, 239): Smith is the case of Thompson valuing collegiate production (FCS-high 525 career tackles) over measurables (short and slow). He was the 23rd of 34 linebackers selected and started three games as a rookie and the first six in 2012. Smith’s 2012 ended with a torn ACL and MCL and he was released before the 2013 draft. He played one game for the Panthers last season and is a free agent. The biggest names selected after Smith (pick No. 186) were Jacquian Williams (Giants, No. 202) and former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith (Seahawks, No. 242). Grade: C-minus.

2012, 5th round — Terrell Manning, N.C. State (6-2, 237): Manning’s rookie season was doomed by an illness that sent his weight crashing. He failed to make the team in 2013, and has collected pay checks in San Diego, Minnesota, the Giants, Miami, Chicago, Cincinnati and now back with the Giants. That’s eight stops and a total of 11 games played. Manning, taken at No. 163, was the 25th of 33 linebackers selected. Denver has gotten 35 games and 17 starts from Danny Trevathan (No. 188). Grade: F.

2013, 7th round — Sam Barrington, South Florida (6-1, 246): There’s a lot of focus on 40-yard times, and for good reason. For a linebacker, it’s one of the top measuring sticks. Barrington, however, ran his 40 in just 4.91 at the Combine. That’s one reason why he was the 24th of 26 linebackers chosen and lasted until the 232nd selection. Barrington forced his way into the lineup and wound up starting seven games and finished with 68 tackles. In the final four rounds of the draft, only three of the 15 linebackers selected have started more games. The Packers probably wouldn’t trade Barrington for any of them. Grade: B.

Overall grade: Of the six inside linebackers drafted by Thompson, only one remains on the roster — Barrington, with his seven career starts. But you have to wonder what might have been had Hodge, Bishop and Smith not had their careers torpedoed by injuries. Not having a Bishop-like presence really hurt the defense in 2012 and 2013. Perphaps Barrington is ready for that role. Grade: C.

What it means (if anything) for 2015: As we’ve pointed out a few times in our Inside Linebacker Countdown series, Smith is the real outlier in Thompson’s draft history. The Packers haven’t taken short players at any position during Thompson’s tenure, with Smith being the exception. If Thompson didn’t have a problem taking Smith in the sixth round in 2011, would he have a problem taking UCLA’s Eric Kendricks (6-foot), TCU’s Paul Dawson (6-foot) or Miami’s Denzel Perryman (5-foot-11) early in 2015? All six inside linebackers taken were invited to the Combine, so Thompson hasn’t gone too far outside the box. And this fact likely changes this year: In the past eight drafts, his earliest inside linebacker selection was Manning at No. 163, with Smith at 186, Bishop at 192 and Barrington at at 232.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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